Everviolet Chats: Tammy Smith, Expert Breast Health Consultant

In our ongoing Journal series, Everviolet Chats, we dive into inspiring conversations with women who are changing the landscape of wellness, with a special focus on those making groundbreaking strides in breast health. Today, we have the privilege of introducing you to a remarkable consultant who has dedicated her life to empowering individuals to take control of their well-being. Her personal journey, shaped by a cancer diagnosis at a young age, led her down a path in healthcare and instilled a deep desire to understand the intricacies of the disease process. With two decades of experience, her passion for helping women navigate the complexities of breast health remains steadfast.

In this interview, we explore Tammy's innovative approach, debunk common misconceptions around breast density and imaging, and gain valuable insights into the world of self-exams and early detection. As she guides women toward proactive and informed choices, she provides individualized education and heartfelt support through 1:1 consults. Join us as we delve into the Beauty of Change and explore the transformative power of knowledge, empathy and resilience in the face of breast health.

Can you share your journey and what inspired you to become a breast health consultant? And Can you explain the benefits of consulting with you from the comfort of one's own home, as opposed to visiting a traditional oncology office?

We all have a story that has molded us for better or worse. My story entails a cancer diagnosis at the age of 15 that inspired my interest in healthcare. Even at that age I wanted to better understand the disease process and I really sought to educate myself. After my cancer reoccurred at the age of 21 I leaned into healthcare as my career. Over the years working as a nurse, I became passionate about working with women and saw so many struggling with breast cancer. From there, my interest naturally developed into a passion, and after 2 decades I still love what I do.

I have helped thousands of women over the years, but I continue to see women everyday who are terrified of getting breast cancer. They are referred to a cancer center which often heightens their anxiety. It’s scary being referred to oncology, not knowing what you’re going to be told. I wanted to create a platform outside of a cancer center where I could reach more women who really struggle, so they can become empowered to take action with their healthcare. A virtual setting really has been the most accessible and comfortable for women. I also wanted to provide an overall better experience by giving them more time, more education, and more support than what is offered in a traditional medical setting. With education and a plan of action I have been able to put their minds at ease and really make a difference in their anxiety.

What are the most common concerns and questions that women with breast health issues have when they come to you? 

I see women for a variety of concerns but the most common is, by far, pain. Breast pain is not commonly discussed in our society. However, most women experience breast pain at some point in their life. For many women breast pain is mild to moderate, and intermittent. For others, it can be severe and daily. Most breast pain however is benign. Through consultation and education I’m able to guide them to an appropriate plan of care and ease their worry.

Another common concern is breast density. What does it mean and what type of imaging is appropriate for my density? Over the past decade states have mandated mammogram centers to educate women about the margin of error in mammography related to density. This has raised much concern and a need for further education.

I also see many patients for support and consultation of side effect management during breast cancer treatment. 

How does your approach differ from the traditional medical model when it comes to addressing breast health concerns? 

My approach is much more personalized, in-depth and supportive. I provide 1:1 weekly, 30 minute consultations. This allows me to really get to know each individuals needs. For my preventative service we explore their health history, current concerns, family history, breast cancer risk, risk reduction and screening recommendations, and lots of education to truly empower women to make educated decisions about their care. We work through their schedule to incorporate time for physical and mental wellness.

For my breast cancer consultation service we dive into their current needs, what can I do now to support them the most. As we work through the program and their side effects become more manageable we start to focus on education. We discuss their diagnosis, the treatment plan provided by their oncologists, and survivorship plan.

This is all done via telehealth so they can be in the comfort of their home, not in a cancer center.

What advice do you have for women who want to be more proactive and educated about their breast health? AND As a breast health consultant, what resources or tools do you recommend for women to stay informed about breast health?

I encourage women to read my monthly educational newsletters by joining my email list on my website, www.breasthealthconsult.com They can also follow me on FaceBook and Instagram, both @BreastHealthConsult. Women can speak with their current providers or imaging centers for more education, and they certainly can join my 3-month Preventative Consultation Program.

Other reliable sources are the American Cancer Society and NationalBreastCancer.org

In your experience, what are some misconceptions or myths that women often have about breast health? 

There are many unfortunately. The most concerning is the belief that if your mammogram is normal then you don’t need to do self breast exams. The reality is some breast cancers are mammographically occult (not seen on mammogram), or are missed due to extreme breast density. Monthly self breast exams and annual clinical exams by a medical professional are necessary regardless of the mammographic findings.

Another common misconception is about breast density and what density actually means. Breast density is not referring to the size or weight of the breasts. Density is a ratio of functional breast tissue to adipose tissue. The younger we are and more estrogen we have the more our functional breast tissue is stimulated. As we become more mature and we no longer need the functional tissue to lactate, that process slows down. Our dense functional tissue atrophies and we get fatty replacement. Therefore, our breasts become less dense and more fatty over time. This is a good thing! It means our mammograms become more reliable as cancers are easier to find in the surrounding fatty tissue.

How do you help women navigate the emotional and psychological aspects of dealing with breast health issues? 

Education is power. Giving them the correct education and tools empowers women to make informed decisions about their health. They become much less anxious when they have a plan AND they understand why that plan is correct for them.

We also spend time acknowledging the trauma involved in receiving a cancer diagnosis and treatment. We normalize the conversation about trauma, vulnerability, and counseling; and I encourage all women and men touched by breast cancer to consider counseling.

Can you share a memorable success story of a woman you've helped on her breast health journey? 

I recently worked with a patient who has a family history of breast cancer and was so worried about her own risk that she was avoiding screening out of fear. Fear of what the mammogram would show. Fear about what she might feel if she did a self breast exam. When we worked through her family history and personal breast history however, her own risk was no more than the general population, approximately 11% lifetime risk. Then we started looking at ways she could reduce her risk through lifestyle modification. She told me she found the whole experience lifted a huge weight off her shoulders. She committed to some simple lifestyle changes and finally went to her provider for a breast exam and for her mammogram, both of which were normal.

What are some important tips you can offer regarding breast self-examinations and early detection? 

Tips include

  1. Scheduling a date with yourself each month for self care. It doesn’t need to be a lot of time. Just long enough to have a mental check-in with yourself, practice some relaxing techniques such as meditation and perform a self breast exam.
  2. If you’re premenopausal this should be at the same time each month, somewhere between day 5 and day 10 of your menstrual cycle. This is the time when your breasts are the least stimulated by estrogen and therefore the least swollen.
  3. At the age of 40 (or earlier based on family history and personal risk) begin receiving a yearly mammogram.
  4. If your breasts are dense (at least 50% dense glandular tissue) then annual complete breast ultrasound screening should be considered to compliment the mammogram.
  5. The more familiar you become with your breast exam, the easier it will become to identify new changes.
  6. If you notice a change that lasts for more than a week, seek evaluation by your provider.

How do you stay updated on the latest advancements and research in breast oncology to provide the best guidance to your clients? 

I maintain my own education by continuing to work in an office setting working in both surgical and medical breast oncology specialities, attending annual breast oncology conferences, completing continuing education in oncology and renewing my certifications in breast care and oncology. 

How can women get in touch with your practice and access your services if they have concerns about their breast health? 

If you have concerns about your breast health please reach out to me via email, TammyS@breasthealthconsult.com or through my website www.breasthealthconsult.com where you can also join my newsletter email.

What does our motto Beauty of Change” mean to you? 

Change can lead to growth, to adventure, to Faith, to peace, and the places you were always meant to occupy. If we can look beyond the unknown and the fears that come with change, we can embrace a whole new self, the self you are becoming. And that is Beautiful!